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Grumman FF

Carrierborne Biplane Fighter Aircraft

The Grumman FF fighter series began the long profitable relationship between the American aviation company and the United States Navy.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 2/14/2018
Grumman began its long-running relationship with the United States Navy when the service branch adopted its "Model G-5" biplane fighter as the "FF". This marked the first Grumman aircraft to be accepted into USN service and also became the first carrier-based fighter to feature retractable main legs in its design. This aircraft was born from a USN initiative to modify its existing Boeing F4B fighter stock with a retractable undercarriage to which competitor Grumman responded with an all-new, modern metal high-speed fighter submission incorporating the requested feature. First flight was on December 29th, 1931 with formal service entry occurring in 1933.

Grumman revealed the aircraft in prototype form through the XFF-1. Power was served through a single, massive Wright R-1820-E "Cyclone" radial piston engine seated at the front of the aircraft. The fuselage held a deep appearance which made it appear rather clumsy and portly by modern standards. The crew of two - pilot and observer - sat in tandem in a long cockpit arrangement. The aircraft retained the proven biplane wing arrangement of decade's past which incorporated parallel struts and applicable cabling between the upper and lower wing assemblies. The upper assembly was raised just enough over the engine cowling so as to provide the required forward visibility from the pilot's position. The lower wing assembly was fitted along the sides of the deep belly structure. The retractable main landing gear legs sat within this belly structure as well and were fitted ahead of the lower wing mainplanes. The tail unit incorporated a sole vertical tail fin, low-set horizontal planes, and an arrestor hook - the latter fitted under the tail unit. A small tail wheel supported the rear section of the aircraft when at rest or when ground running and remained fixed in flight despite the retracting nature of the main legs. Standard armament became 2 x 0.30 caliber Browning M1919 medium machine guns which - for the day - gave an appropriate offensive "punch" against adversaries of the day. The aircraft also held a light bombing capability, able to carry and release a 100lb bomb from under the fuselage.

The aircraft incorporated several rather modern elements into its design, contrary to its antiquated biplane appearance. It appeared in a period of aviation in which many designs would retain qualities of a bygone era of flight but also brought along all-new qualities such as its retractable undercarriage, fully enclosed cockpit, more modern instrument panel, and metal skinning along the fuselage (fabric was still used over the wings). In these ways, the FF was more modern than those forms emerging from the 1920s but were, themselves, rendered quickly obsolete by the new thoroughbreds of World War 2 such as the storied British Hawker Hurricane and the German Messerschmitt BF 109.

About a year after its first flight, the USN ordered the FF into production through 27 first-batch examples of the "FF-1" fighter-minded mark during December of 1932. Thirty-three examples of another mark - the scout-minded "SF-1" - were also added and these were based on a follow-up FF prototype by Grumman known as the "XSF-1" which included different mission equipment as well as different Wright Cyclone radials. First deliveries to a USN unit were during June of 1933 aboard USS Lexington (CV-2) (this World War 2 veteran would later be lost at the Battle of Coral Sea in 1942).

The FF series did not last long in frontline service with the USN for they were already out of circulation as soon as 1937, relegated to second-line units and roles, and officially retired from service before World War 2 (1939-1945) in 1940. Fifty-two aircraft were produced as the "Goblin" in Canada for the Canadian Air Force based on a slightly improved FF-1 form known as the "G-23". The aircraft series was also evaluated in Imperial Japan, Mexico, and Nicaragua though no firm orders followed. Thirty-four more aircraft were exported to Spain and operated as the GE.23 "Delfin". These served some in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The XSF-2 was a trials model which incorporated the Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72 "Twin Wasp Junior" radial engine of 650 horsepower but went nowhere. Some 25 FF-1 fighters were converted for the USN by the Naval Aircraft Factory for use as trainer platforms complete with dual-control setups.

Production of all FF forms spanned from 1932 to 1934 with 116 units being completed.

In its finalized production fighter form, the FF-1's Wright R-1820-78 Cyclone radial piston engine outputted a useful 700 horsepower. This allowed for a maximum speed of 207 miles per hour to be reached with ranges out to 685 miles. The type's service ceiling was 22,100 feet with a rate-of-climb reaching 1,670 feet per minute.

Grumman would continue its relationship to the USN as its primary carrier-based fighter supplier with the introduction of the Grumman F2F biplane series in 1935. Only 55 of this type were built and these were also quickly retired by 1940. The Grumman F3F was another offshoot of 1936 - retired in 1943.


Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 116 Units ] :
Grumman - USA
National flag of Argentina National flag of Canada National flag of Japan National flag of Mexico National flag of Spain National flag of United States Argentina; Canada; Japan; Mexico; Spain; United States
- Fighter
- Navy / Maritime
24.51 ft (7.47 m)
34.51 ft (10.52 m)
11.09 ft (3.38 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Grumman FF-1 production model)
Empty Weight:
3,097 lb (1,405 kg)
4,674 lb (2,120 kg)
(Diff: +1,576lb)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Grumman FF-1 production model)
1 x Wright R-1820-78 Cyclone radial piston engine developing 700 horsepower.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Grumman FF-1 production model)
Maximum Speed:
207 mph (333 kph; 180 kts)
Service Ceiling:
22,096 feet (6,735 m; 4.18 miles)
Maximum Range:
684 miles (1,100 km; 594 nm)
1,665 ft/min (507 m/min)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Grumman FF-1 production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 0.30 Browning M1919 medium machine guns

1 x 100lb conventional drop bomb
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Grumman FF-1 production model)
FF - Base Series Designation
XFF-1 - Single prototype example; fitting Wright R-1820-E Cyclone radial engine of 616 horsepower.
FF-1 - Initial production model for USN; fitting Wright R-1820-78 Cyclone radial piston engine of 700 horsepower; 27 examples.
FF-2 - Dual-control trainer mounts modified from existing stock of FF-1 aircraft; 25 examples.
XSF-1 - "Scout Fighter" prototype
SF-1 - Scout Fighter variant for USN; different mission equipment and Wright R--1820-84 Cyclone radial piston engine used; 33 examples.
XSF-2 - One-off development fitting Pratt & Whitney R-1535-72 "Twin Wasp Junior" radial engine of 650 horsepower.
G-23 - Canadian production under Canadian Car & Foundry Company brand label; based on improved form of FF-1 fighter model.
"Goblin" - Canadian-produced variant of the G-23 for the Canadian Royal Air Force; 52 examples.
GE.23 "Delfin" - Export model for Spain; 34 examples
AXG1 - G-23 model delivered to Imperial Japan for evaluations.

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